Rolling with the Stones
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll. Classic Rolling Stones song. They rocked in Cuba. March 25. Just 11 days now. Historic concert. The world has written.
Let’s jump and jackflash back. Bangalore. April 4, 2003. Exactly 13 years ago. Mumbai was next. April 7. I covered that tour. Personal diary. Sorry for short sentences. Apologies for grammar. But they’re the Stones. No rules or regulations. Who wouldn’t show off?
Landed in Bangalore April 2. Phone interview with Jagger. Just two Indian journalists. He was in Singapore. Called on time. Strictly 10 minutes. What a voice! But was this Mick? Or an imposter? Too formal and business-like. Zero humour. So unlike Tull’s Ian Anderson. Or Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott. They were wild. This dude was a bore. Maybe because I am male. Yet very polite. No airs. Or snootiness. Nice guy. Certainly no rock icon. London School of Economics types. He studied there, after all.
Next afternoon. Leela Palace, Bangalore. Press conference. Over-crowded. Again 15 minutes. Ask what you want. Photo-opportunities later. The Stones fooled around. No straight answer. Chaos over pictures. Ronnie Wood smiled. Keith Richards looked stoned. Charlie Watts was grumpy. Jagger had disappeared. Poor photographers.
Half an hour later. Six journalists to meet them. I was lucky. One question each. PR girl played dictator. Maximum 20 minutes. Including autographs and coffee. Forgot to serve sugar. White or brown. Selfies didn’t exist. Smoking not allowed. Who could stop Keith?
Mine was third turn. Remembered golden rules. One, don’t flaunt knowledge. Or lack of it. Two, no obvious songs. Like ‘Satisfaction’ or ‘Jumping Jackflash’. Three, avoid personal lives. No Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall. Worse, Marianne Faithfull.
Asked about ‘Tumbling Dice’. Put in ‘Ruby Tuesday’. Guys got serious. Talked of ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’. And ‘As Tears Go By’. Time over. Three others missed out. They published quotes anyway.
One group photograph. Never received them later. Autograph session. Mick was eyeing the ladies. Grabbed him before that. He signed indifferently. Charles had vanished. Got hold of Ronnie. Showed him my rock encyclopedia. It had other signatures. Roger Waters. Deep Purple. Tull. Scorpions. Elton John. Def Leppard. Ronnie was zapped. He called Keith. Both gossiped about rock stars. “Can I buy this book?” Sorry, Woodie.
April 4. Palace Grounds, Bangalore. The Stones rocked. I rolled. Didn’t have to write. Just took notes. And jotted set-list.
Reached Mumbai next morning. Wrote a curtain-raiser. The Stones arrived next day. April 6. Lots of stories, nothing proven. Media was on overdrive. Didn’t discuss any music. Got to know Charlie’s plans. He wanted live jazz.
Not Just Jazz, Marine Drive. Hard rock band scheduled. Suddenly told to play jazz. Charlie came with manager. Ordered a drink and snacks. Got up in 10 minutes. “Is this jazz or joke?” His face was beetroot-coloured. Grabbed him there. Autograph book. Showed him other three signatures. He growled. “Where the hell did you….?” Told him Bangalore. Smile of acknowledgement. Signed sweetly. Two more CDs.
The big day. April 7. Nobody remembered Ravi Shankar’s birthday. Or his disciple Brian Jones. Late Stones guitarist. The genius Mick Taylor either. The show was to begin.
I knew the flow. Bands don’t change set-lists. ‘Brown Sugar’ would be first. Announced loudly before it started. “How do you know?” Bluffed I was a groupie. Neighbours believed it. Next song ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’. Followed by ‘Start Me Up’. Kept meeting strangers. Nobody knew the tunes. They clapped. Number six would be ‘Angie’. Keith would sing ‘Slipping Away’. It went on.
Left venue with ‘Satisfaction’. Many thought I was crazy. Had ‘sympathy for the devil’. Hooo hooo! It’s only rock ’n’ roll. I still like it. Feel like a rolling stone.
Narendra Kusnur is a freelance music writer